Transcript: Interview: Northrop Frye | Nov 15, 1977

The screen shows both the host and his guest sitting down. The studio setting has a black background, grey leather couches and a table.

The host is a man in his fifties. He has short blond hair, clean-shaven. He wears a grey suit, a white shirt and a black tie.

The Host says Dr. NORTHROP FRYE, I QUOTED
IN MY OPENING FROM A BOOK YOU
WROTE IN 1968 CALLED
"THE MODERN CENTURY."
AND IN IT YOU TOLD HOW WE WERE
BEING REDUCED TO DESPAIR BY
THE STEADILY INCREASING
SPEED OF TOTAL MOVEMENT.
THIS YOU CALL THE
ALIENATION OF PROGRESS.
AND I'M WONDERING SINCE SOME
OF THE FRENZY OF THE '60s HAS
GONE, IF YOU'D CHANGE
THAT DIAGNOSES AT ALL?

Dr. Frye is a man in his late sixties. He has short blond hair, is clean-shaven, and has squared glasses on. He wears a check plaid suit, a musk green V-neck sweater, a white shirt, and a black tie.

He says I WOULDN'T CHANGE THE
DIAGNOSES AS FAR AS THE
GENERAL RHYTHM OF
SOCIETY IS CONCERNED.
I THINK MORE AND MORE, THERE'S
BEEN A REVOLT AGAINST THAT,
SIMPLY OUT OF
SELF-PRESERVATION.
THERE'S BEEN A GREAT DEAL MORE
GATHERING INTO ONE SELF AND
TRYING TO JUST TURN YOUR
BACK ON THE EXPRESS TRAIN
MENTALITY, WHICH MECHANICAL
AND TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS
HAS BUILT UP.

The Host says SO THIS IS A MORE
REFLECTIVE TIME?
A MORE INWARD TURNING
TIME THAN THE '60s?

Dr. Frye says I WOULD SAY SO, YES.
I THINK, ACTUALLY, THE TIME
OF THE '60s WAS ACTUALLY VERY
INTROVERTED AS WELL.
BUT IT EXPRESSED ITSELF
IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

The Host says YOU ALSO WRITE OF THE CITY
BECOMING INCREASINGLY HIDEOUS
AND NIGHTMARISH.
YOU DESCRIBE US AS 'ANTS IN
THE BODY OF A DYING DRAGON'.
THAT, TOO, IS LATE '60s.
WHAT, FOR YOU TODAY, REMAINS
THE MOST HIDEOUS ASPECT
OF OUR CITIES?

A slate on screen reads ‘Dr. Northrop Frye.’

Dr. Frye says I SUPPOSE ACTUALLY THE
INSECURITY AND THE CONSTANT
HUMILIATION OF PEOPLE HAVING
TO LIVE WITH THAT INSECURITY,
AND THE GROWING VIOLENCE
WHICH MAKES THE CITIES
EVEN MORE UNMANAGEABLE
AND UNINHABITABLE NOW
THAN THEY WERE
TEN YEARS AGO.

The Host says WHAT WOULD BE THE
CAUSE OF THE INSECURITY?
WHAT'S THE RELATIONSHIP
BETWEEN THE INSECURITY
AND THE MODERN CITY?

Dr. Frye says WELL, IT'S JUST A SIMPLE
MATTER OF A CONSTANT FEAR
OF VIOLENCE.
THE HESITATION ON THE PART OF
PEOPLE IN NEW YORK OR DETROIT
TO GO OUT IN THE EVENINGS
FOR ENTERTAINMENT, OR TO RIDE
IN THE SUBWAYS AFTER
DARK, THAT KIND OF THING.

The Host says ON MASS ART, YOU SAY THAT, IN
OUR SOCIETY TODAY, MASS ART IS
BRUTAL BECAUSE THOSE WHO
WRITE AND SELL IT THINK OF
THEIR READERS AS THE MOB.

Dr. Frye says I THINK THAT A GOOD DEAL OF ART
OF THAT KIND IS MASS PRODUCED.
IT'S MASS PRODUCED BECAUSE IT
IS VERY ECONOMICAL TO PRODUCE
THAT WAY.
WE FIND THAT VIOLENCE IN
TELEVISION, FOR EXAMPLE, IS
REALLY A BY-PRODUCT OF A CERTAIN
KIND OF ECONOMIC PROCESS.
AND THAT MEANS, OF COURSE,
IT DOES APPEAL TO REFLEXES,
RATHER THAN TO ANYTHING THAT
YOU COULD CALL THE MIND
OR THE IMAGINATION.
AND THE MOB IS SIMPLY AN
AGGREGATE OF PEOPLE WHO ARE
MOVED BY A COMMON REFLEX.

The Host says ON TELEVISION, YOU FEEL THAT
IT LEADS THIS KIND OF REFLEX
ACTION, LEADS TO RESENTMENT
AND PANIC, AND LEADS,
FINALLY, TO ANARCHY.

Dr. Frye says ON THE PART OF WHOM?
THE VIEWER?

The Host says THE VIEWER.

Dr. Frye continues PERHAPS SO, YES.
PERHAPS THE VIEWER GETS A BIT
BLUDGEONED AND RATHER NUMBED,
AS A RESULT.
I HAD TO SUM UP A SYMPOSIUM
ON VIOLENCE RECENTLY
THAT THE CRTC HELD.
AND I SUGGESTED THERE
TELEVISION HAS, BESIDES
THIS GROWTH OF SOCIALLY
IRRESPONSIBLE VIOLENCE, ALSO
HAS A PROFOUNDLY CIVILIZING
ROLE TO PLAY IN THAT IT BRINGS
THE CAMERA RIGHT UP AGAINST
PEOPLE AND EXPOSES THEM AS
HUMAN BEINGS, INSTEAD
OF A STEREOTYPE.

The Host says BUT WHERE IT DOES LEAD TO
VIOLENCE, ARE YOU TALKING
THERE ABOUT CONTENT, OR JUST
ABOUT THE FACT IT'S NOT A
TWO-WAY KIND
OF COMMUNICATION?

Dr. Frye says OH, I THINK THE FACT THAT IT'S
A MONOLOGUE FROM THE SET
TO THE VIEWER IS A VERY
IMPORTANT ELEMENT.
AND I'M NOT SPEAKING
OF
JUST
THE CONTENT.
I THINK TELEVISION IS INHERENTLY
A RATHER VIOLENT FORM.
BECAUSE IT DOES COME SO CLOSE
TO THE VIEWER AND GETS
THROUGH ALL THE BARRICADES BY
GETTING INTO HIS HOUSE AND
GETTING THROUGH TO THE
CHILDREN, AS WELL AS THE ADULTS.

The Host says SO A KIND OF
INVASION OF PRIVACY?

Dr. Frye continues WELL, I THINK THAT'S A PHRASE
WHICH IS A PEJORATIVE PHRASE,
AND ONE COULD TAKE IT IN
DIFFERENT WAYS, BUT I THINK IT
DOES GET THROUGH DEFENCES TO
THE EXTENT THAT NO OTHER ART
HAS EVER BEEN ABLE TO DO.

The Host says NOW, MARSHALL McLUHAN, IF I'VE
UNDERSTOOD HIM CORRECTLY,
DOESN'T HE SAY OR FEEL THAT
THE ULTIMATE EFFECT ON THE
VIEWER OF MASS DOSES OF
TELEVISION IS ONE OF APATHY.
YOU, THAT IS NOT YOUR
CONCLUSION, Dr. FRYE.
IT'S MORE ANARCHY
AND VIOLENCE.

Dr. Frye says I THINK IT'S PART
OF THE CONCLUSION.
I THINK THAT APATHY IS A VERY
IMPORTANT AND CENTRAL RESPONSE.
AND ONE CAN SEE THAT IN THE
BEHAVIOUR OF PEOPLE IN CITIES
WHERE AN ACT OF VIOLENCE CAN
GO ON UNDER THEIR EYES AND
THEY JUST STAND AROUND WITH
THEIR HANDS IN THEIR POCKETS.
AND THAT IS THE
RESULT OF APATHY.
MARSHALL ALSO SPEAKS OF
CIVIL DEFENCE AGAINST MEDIA
FALLOUT, WHICH I THINK
IS A VERY ACCURATE PHRASE
IN THAT CONNECTION.

The Host says HMM.
VANDALISM AND TERRORISM.
YOU WOULDN'T LAY THE BLAME
FOR THE VIOLENCE OF OUR AGE
TOTALLY WITH TELEVISION.
WOULD YOU PUT IT UNDER A
LARGER UMBRELLA OF THE WHOLE
OF TECHNOLOGY?

Dr. Frye says WELL, PEOPLE
ALWAYS LOOK FOR
CAUSES OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS
AND FEEL IF THEY'VE LOCATED THE
CAUSE THEY'VE MORE OR LESS
SOLVED THE PROBLEM.
BUT THE TROUBLE IS THAT EVERY
CAUSE THAT YOU LOCATE TURNS
OUT TO BE JUST
ONE MORE EFFECT.
AND TELEVISION IS AN EFFECT OF
VIOLENCE AND NOT A CAUSE OF IT.
THOUGH IT MAY BE A
CONTRIBUTORY CAUSE IN A KIND
OF VICIOUS CIRCLE DEVELOPMENT.

The Host says TO LEAVE Dr. McLUHAN FOR THE
LAST TIME, HE WAS, SOME YEARS
AGO, PREDICTING TELEVISION
WOULD REPLACE THE BOOK,
THE PRINT MEDIUM.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT HE'S
SAYING EXACTLY NOW.
WOULD THAT BE YOUR FEELING?

Dr. Frye says IT'S NOT MY FEELING,
AND IDOUBT VERY MUCH THAT
IT'S HIS. I THINK THERE IS THE ASPECT
WHICH HE ISOLATED, THE LINEAR
ASPECT IN READING A BOOK FROM
THE TOP LEFT-HAND CORNER OF
PAGE ONE TO THE BOTTOM RIGHT-
HAND CORNER OF THE LAST PAGE.
BUT THE BOOK, THE PRINTED
MEDIUM, HAS A UNIQUE POWER OF
STAYING WHERE IT IS SO
IT CAN BE CONSULTED AGAIN,
IN THAT IT ALWAYS
PRESENTS THE SAME WORDS.
SO TO THAT EXTENT, IT COULD
BECOME A FOCUS OF THE COMMUNITY.
IT'S NOT JUST A LINEAR
EXPRESS TRAIN THING.

The Host says HOW WOULD YOU DIFFER THOUGH,
IN WHAT HE SAYS THE BOOK DOES
TO US, WHAT READING DOES TO
US, THAT IT SEPARATES US FROM
THE COMMUNITY, AND THAT IT
INDIVIDUALIZES US AND MAKES US
MORE COMPETITIVE
AND MORE ISOLATED.

Dr. Frye says YES, BUT NOT ALL
ISOLATION IS A BAD THING.
WE BEGAN BY SAYING THAT PEOPLE
ARE ALIENATED BY THE LINEAR
TECHNOLOGICAL PROGRESS OF OUR
TIME, AND THAT INTROVERSION
AND TURNING AWAY FROM THE
PANIC OF KEEPING ONGOING IS
PERHAPS ONE OF THE WAYS OF
SAVING ONE'S IMAGINATIVE LIFE.

The Host says THE BOOK, THEN, ACCENTUATES
A CERTAIN PRIVACY?

Dr. Frye says I THINK THE BOOK IS A
SAFEGUARD OF PRIVACY, YES.

The Host continues THE ROLE OF LITERATURE TODAY,
Dr. FRYE, YOU'VE BEEN QUOTED
AS SAYING THAT IT'S NECESSARY
TO A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY.

Dr. Frye says YES, I THINK THAT'S TRUE.
I THINK THAT, I WAS SPEAKING
RATHER OF THE PUBLIC ACCESS
TO INFORMATION.
AND THE PUBLIC ACCESS TO
INFORMATION IS MADE POSSIBLE
BY THE PRINTING PRESS.
SO I THINK THAT THE BOOK IS A
TECHNOLOGICAL INSTRUMENT THAT
MAKES IT POSSIBLE FOR
DEMOCRACY TO FUNCTION.

The Host says AND YOU BELIEVE THAT GREAT
LITERATURE BELONGS TO EVERYONE?

Dr. Frye says OH, YES.

The Host continues WHY DO YOU THINK STUDENTS AND
CERTAIN OF US ADULTS FEEL A
CERTAIN HOSTILITY, OR AT LEAST
AN INTIMIDATION WHEN FACED
WITH HIGHBROW LITERATURE?
IS THAT A FAULT
OF OUR TEACHING?

Dr. Frye says IT'S SOCIAL CONDITIONING,
VERY LARGELY.
I THINK A GAP GROWS UP IN A
STUDENT'S MIND AT A VERY EARLY
AGE BETWEEN WHAT HE'S TOLD HE
OUGHT TO WANT BY SOME PEOPLE,
AND WHAT HE'S TOLD
HE REALLY DOES WANT
BY CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE.
NOW, NEITHER OF THESE THINGS
IS TRUE, BUT A CERTAIN
SCHIZOPHRENIA DOES TEND TO
MAKE A KIND OF CIVIL WAR
BETWEEN THE HIGHBROW ARTS
AND THE POPULAR ARTS.
I THINK WHENEVER YOU
HAVE A GENUINE PIECE OF
ENTERTAINMENT, YOU'LL FIND
THAT DISTINCTION BREAKING DOWN.
I THINK YOU'LL FIND THAT
TELEVISION ITSELF STEADILY MOVES
IN THE DIRECTION OF DESTROYING
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN AN
ELITIST AUDIENCE
AND A MASS AUDIENCE.
I THINK THAT NOTION
IS OUT OF DATE.
LAST WEEKEND, I WAS LOOKING
AT THE SERIES OF YORK BIBLICAL
PLAYS WRITTEN IN
THE 14th CENTURY.
47 OF THEM PUT ON ON THE WEEKEND
HERE ON THE FRONT CAMPUS.
WHAT STRUCK ME ABOUT THAT WAS
THE FACT THERE WERE NOT ONLY
ALL KINDS OF PROFESSORS OF
MEDIEVAL LITERATURE THERE,
BUT THERE WERE ALSO
FOUR-YEAR-OLD KIDS SPRAWLED
OUT OVER THE STAGE AND
GETTING IN EVERYBODY'S WAY.
THEY JUST ASSUMED
THE SHOW WAS THEIRS.

The Host says YOU'VE TRIED TO OVERCOME THIS
INTIMIDATION BY, I BELIEVE,
A BOOK CALLED
"ANATOMY OF
CRITICISM,"
WHICH HAS HAD AN
INFLUENCE RIGHT ACROSS NORTH
AMERICA ON THE WHOLE TEACHING
AND CURRICULUM OF ENGLISH.
WHAT WERE YOU EXACTLY
TRYING TO DO WITH
"ANATOMY OF CRITICISM,"
DOCTOR?

Dr. Frye says I WAS TRYING TO HELP PEOPLE
TO SEE LITERATURE AS AN
INTELLIGIBLE AREA OF STUDY.
AND THAT IT'S NOT JUST A
MATTER OF READING ONE BOOK
AFTER ANOTHER, ONE PLAY
AFTER ONE, OR ONE POEM AFTER
ANOTHER, BUT THERE IS A KIND
OF TOTAL INTELLIGIBLE UNITY TO
BE GAINED FROM THE STUDY OF
LITERATURE, WHICH ANY WORK OF
LITERATURE CAN LEAD YOU.
AND I DIDN'T REALLY GET
INTERESTED IN LITERATURE AS
A SCHOLAR AND A TEACHER UNTIL I
SAW THAT THERE WERE WAYS OF
INTRODUCING IT TO
VERY YOUNG PEOPLE.
AND AS A RESULT OF THAT BOOK,
THERE'S A SERIES OF TEXTS NOW
PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES
FROM GRADE SEVEN TO 12, BUT I
THINK THAT IS EVEN OLDER
THAN IT NEEDS TO BE.
I THINK THE MAIN PRINCIPLES
IN MY BOOK ARE SO SIMPLE THEY
COULD BE STARTED MUCH EARLIER.

The Host says COULD YOU SAY A LITTLE
MORE ABOUT THE PRINCIPLES?

Dr. Frye continues WELL, ONE OF THE MAIN
PRINCIPLES IS THAT THERE ARE
FOUR TYPES OF STORY.
A ROMANCE, A TRAGEDY, A COMEDY
AND AN IRONY OR A SATIRE.
AND THE NATURE OF THESE
STORIES CAN BE TAUGHT TO ANY
CHILD AS SOON AS HE CAN
LISTEN TO A STORY AT ALL.
AND THE CURVE UP AT THE END OF
COMEDY, THE CURVE DOWN AT THE
END OF THE TRAGEDY, ARE QUITE
UNMISTAKABLE, EVEN TO VERY
YOUNG CHILDREN.

The Host says SO ONE COULD THEN BEGIN TO SEE
THE STRUCTURE ON A DRAMA FROM
TELEVISION LAST NIGHT, OR FROM
A PLAY, OR FROM READING A
GREAT NOVEL?

Dr. Frye says YES.
I AM VERY KEEN ON EMPHASIZING
THE SIMILARITIES, RATHER THAN
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A
SHAKESPEAREAN COMEDY AND THE
OLD MOVIE THAT YOU SAW ON
TELEVISION LAST NIGHT.

The Host says AND THIS WOULD ALLOW A READER
OR A TEACHER THEN, TO READ
A WORK AND BE ABLE TO SEE
WHETHER THOSE ELEMENTS WERE
THERE OR WERE NOT THERE
AND TO BE ABLE TO EVALUATE
IT ACCORDINGLY?

Dr. Frye says NOT QUITE THAT.
BECAUSE IN THE FIRST PLACE,
THOSE ELEMENTS ALWAYS
ARE
THERE.
THERE ARE ELEMENTS
OF STRUCTURE.
AND ANY STORY THAT HAS A
BEGINNING, A MIDDLE AND
AN END WILL SHOW A
STRUCTURAL TYPE.
I'M NOT SO MUCH CONCERNED
WITH EVALUATION.
I THINK THAT'S THE BY-PRODUCT
OF WHAT THE CRITIC DOES,
RATHER THAN THE
ACTUAL END OR AIM.
BECAUSE THE PRINCIPLES OF
EVALUATION COME FROM YOUR
SOCIAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT, AND
THEY TEND TO GROW OUT OF DATE
IN ANOTHER CENTURY OR SO.
IT'S BETTER TO STUDY WHAT IS
THERE, RATHER THAN SAY THIS IS
GOOD, OR AS THAT, WHICH YOU
MAY LIKE BETTER, IS BAD.

The Host says SO YOU WANTED US TO KEEP
AWAY FROM VALUE JUDGMENTS
IN LITERARY CRITICISM?

Dr. Frye continues I'D BE CAUTIOUS
AND SPARING OF
THEM, ESPECIALLY IN TEACHING
YOUNG PEOPLE, RATHER
TENTATIVE ABOUT THEM.

The Host says IS THIS A CRITICISM, THEN,
DOCTOR, THAT TAKING ALL VALUE
JUDGMENTS OUT OF CRITICISM
WOULD THUS EQUATE GREAT
LITERATURE WITH
POPULAR LITERATURE?
IS THAT A CRITICISM, OR IS
THAT WHAT YOU WOULD WANT?

Dr. Frye says IT WOULD ILLUSTRATE THE
STRUCTURAL SIMILARITY BETWEEN
GREAT LITERATURE AND POPULAR
LITERATURE AND WOULD,
THEREFORE, EXPLAIN SOMETHING
WHICH PEOPLE FIND GREAT
DIFFICULTY IN EXPLAINING,
WHICH IS THE FACT THAT GREAT
LITERATURE ALWAYS GROWS
OUT OF POPULAR LITERATURE.
I THINK, IN CERTAIN SOCIAL
CONDITIONS, POPULAR LITERATURE
CAN BE ARTIFICIALLY DEBASED.
WE WERE TALKING ABOUT
THAT A FEW MINUTES AGO.
BUT IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE.

The Host says I WANT TO MOVE YOU NOW TO MYTH
AND ARCHETYPE, AND WHAT YOU
SAY THAT WE ALL LIVE IN
A MYTHOLOGICAL WORLD.
NOW, A LOT OF US HAVE THE
FEELING WHEN WE USE THE WORD
MYTH, THAT WHEN SOMEBODY SAYS
ONE RACE IS STRONGER THAN
ANOTHER RACE, AND SOMEONE
SAYS, THAT IS A MYTH,
WHAT WE'RE REALLY SAYING
IS THAT IS A LIE.
THAT IS NOT WHAT
YOU MEAN BY MYTH.

Dr. Frye says IT'S PART OF WHAT
I MEAN BY MYTH.
I THINK THAT A MYTH, TO ME,
FUNDAMENTALLY IS A STORY.
AND MOST OF THE GREAT MYTHS
ARE VERY EARLY STORIES THAT
HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR A LONG
TIME, AND THEY'RE STORIES
ABOUT GODS.
AND THEY ARE TOLD IN ORDER TO
TELL A SOCIETY WHAT IT NEEDS
TO KNOW ABOUT ITS STRUCTURE
AND SOCIAL ORIGIN AND SO FORTH.
BUT A MYTH
BEING
A STORY,
IT FITS IN TO ANOTHER
LARGER PATTERN.
WE ALL LOOK AT THE WORLD FROM
INSIDE SOME KIND OF FRAMEWORK.
NOW THAT FRAMEWORK CAN
BE EITHER TRUE OR FALSE.
AND I THINK THAT WE'RE
CONDITIONED TO ACCEPT A LOT
OF FALSE MYTHOLOGY FROM
OUR SOCIAL SURROUNDINGS
AS WE GROW UP.
AND THAT IS REALLY A PARODY
OF THE GENUINE FORMS
WHICH YOU GET.

The Host says WOULD YOU GIVE ME AN
EXAMPLE OF THE KIND OF
FALSE MYTHS THAT WE'RE
FORCED TO GROW UP WITH?

Dr. Frye continues I JUST LIVE TO
GET AWAY FROM
THIS RAT RACE WHERE I CAN GET
AWAY FROM IT ALL...
THE COTTAGE COUNTRY.
THAT'S THE PASTORAL MYTH.
IT'S NOT PARTICULARLY A FALSE
MYTH, BUT IT'S A PARODY OF
THE CONCEPTION OF AN
IDEALIZED LIFE, WHICH AFFORDS
A VALUE JUDGMENT FOR THE LIFE
WE ARE ACTUALLY LEADING.
OR THE NOTION OF AN
ARISTOCRACY THAT PEOPLE ARE
BORN, AND BY THEIR BIRTH, BY
THEIR BLOOD, ARE SUPERIOR TO
OTHER PEOPLE.
THAT IS A PERFECTLY
COMPREHENSIBLE MYTH,
BUT IT'S FALSE.
AND IN OUR DAY, OF
COURSE, IT'S PERNICIOUS.

The Host says NOW, YOU HAVE DEALT FOR
MANY, MANY YEARS, BOTH AS A
PROFESSOR AND IN YOUR STUDIES
ON MYTH IN THE BIBLE.

Dr. Frye says YES.

The Host continues THERE YOU TALK ABOUT
ARCHETYPES, SYMBOLS AND MYTHS,
WHICH WE KNOW NOW ARE STORIES.
COULD YOU SAY SOMETHING
ABOUT ARCHETYPES, SYMBOLS?

Dr. Frye says TO ME, AN ARCHETYPE IS
SIMPLY A REPEATING UNIT IN
LITERATURE THAT YOU FIND THAT
YOU ARE RUNNING INTO THE SAME
THEMES OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
AND IF YOU EXAMINE THE BIBLE,
YOU FIND THAT WHILE IT LOOKS
LIKE A GREAT CHAOS, AN
ACCUMULATION OF BOOKS,
NEVERTHELESS IT HAS MADE ITS
IMPACT ON WESTERN CULTURE
AS A UNIFIED BOOK.
AND IF YOU LOOK AT THE THINGS
THAT UNIFY IT, YOU FIND THAT,
FIRST OF ALL, IT HAS
A NARRATIVE UNITY.
IT STARTS AT THE BEGINNING
OF TIME AND ENDS AT THE
END OF TIME.
IT TELLS THE STORY OF
ADAM IN ISRAEL IN BETWEEN.
THEN, THERE ARE CERTAIN
SYMBOLS OR IMAGES LIKE CITY
AND HILL AND RIVER AND TREE.
THOSE ARE REPEATED IN SUCH A
WAY AS TO INDICATE THEY ARE
FORMING A UNIFIED
PICTURE OF THE WORLD.
AND SO IT'S BY THE SYMBOLS
OR THE IMAGES AND BY THE STORY
IT TELLS THAT YOU CAN
SEE IT AS A UNITY.
WHEN YOU SEE IT AS A UNITY YOU
BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND HOW IT
HAS AFFECTED WESTERN CULTURE.
BOTH PHILOSOPHY
AND IMAGINATION.

The Host says WOULD YOU SAY SOMETHING
ABOUT ARCHETYPES?

Dr. Frye continues THE
ARCHETYPE IS
THE REPEATING UNIT.
IT IS THE FACT YOU HAVE, IN
THE BIBLE, THE IDEALIZED
PASTORAL LIFE.
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD.
JESUS CALLS HIMSELF
THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
IN CLASSICAL LITERATURE,
WITHOUT ANY INFLUENCE FROM THE
BIBLE, YOU GET A PASTORAL
DEVELOPMENT WHERE THE POET
PRETENDS TO BE A SHEPHERD.
THE LIFE IS A SIMPLIFIED,
IDEALIZED LIFE.
THE MODERN WESTERN STORY,
EXCEPT THAT IT USES CATTLE
INSTEAD OF SHEEP, IS ALSO A
PASTORAL MYTH IN THE SAME KIND.

The Host says THAT AUTHOR INFLUENCED
BY THE BIBLE?

Dr. Frye says NOT NECESSARILY.
HE MAY VERY WELL HAVE BEEN,
BUT THESE THINGS DON'T DEPEND
ON DIRECT INFLUENCE.

The Host says THE STORY OF THE PRODIGAL SON.
AN ARCHETYPE THAT APPEARS
THROUGHOUT THE BIBLE
AND ALSO IN SECULAR LITERATURE?

Dr. Frye says YES.
THE GENERAL SHAPE OF
THAT STORY IS A U SHAPE.
YOU START IN A CONDITION, A
RELATIVE PEACE AND PROSPERITY.
YOU THEN GO INTO EXILE OR
BONDAGE OR HUMILIATION,
AND THEN YOU'RE BROUGHT
BACK TO SOMETHING LIKE
THE ORIGINAL STATE.
IT'S THE SAME AS
THE STORY OF JOB.
IT'S THE SAME THAT YOU GET IN
HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS OF
COMIC STRUCTURES
IN LITERATURE.

The Host says WOULD THIS KIND OF
KNOWLEDGE
AND UNDERSTANDING DESTROY
SOMEONE'S FAITH IN THE BIBLE?
OR IS IT A PASSAGE
TO LIBERATION?

Dr. Frye says I THINK THE QUESTION
OF BELIEF IS PARTLY
A LINGUISTIC QUESTION.
AND MOST BELIEFS ARE EXPRESSED
IN LANGUAGE OF DOGMA
IN A PROPOSITION.
I BELIEVE THIS, AND SO ON.
WELL, THAT ONLY UNITES THE
PEOPLE WHO DO BELIEVE IT.
IT'S EXCLUSIVE AND SHUTS
OUT THE PEOPLE THAT DON'T.
BUT WHEN YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT
IMAGES, YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT
SOMETHING YOU
CAN'T ARGUE WITH.
AND, CONSEQUENTLY, YOU'LL
INCLUDE EVERYBODY.
AND I'VE TAUGHT THIS
COURSE ON THE BIBLE
TO ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE AND HAVE
FOUND THAT THE DIFFERENCES
IN THEIR ATTITUDES AND THEIR
COMMITMENTS WAS MUCH LESS
IMPORTANT THAN HAVING AN AREA
OF STUDY THAT WAS WITHDRAWN
FROM COMMITMENT OF
THAT EXCLUDING KIND.

The Host says IN 1947, YOU WROTE
"FEARFUL SYMMETRY,"
A STUDY
OF WILLIAM BLAKE.
AND THERE, TOO, YOU WERE
LOOKING FOR PATTERNS AND
STRUCTURE IN HIS WORK.
IT TOOK YOU ALMOST 15 YEARS,
OFF AND ON, I UNDERSTAND,
TO WRITE THAT BOOK.
AND IN 1976,
"THE SECULAR
SCRIPTURE: A STUDY OF THE
STRUCTURE OF ROMANCE,"
ONCE AGAIN, SEARCHING FOR
STRUCTURES, PATTERNS.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING
ON RIGHT NOW, Dr. FRYE?

Dr. Frye says WELL, I'VE FINALLY
COME TO
GRIPS WITH THE BOOK THAT'S
BEEN HAUNTING ME ALL MY LIFE.
AND THAT IS THE BOOK ON THE
BIBLE AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO
WESTERN CULTURE, OF WHICH
IT FORMED WHAT I CALL THE
MYTHOLOGICAL FRAMEWORK.
I THINK WE'VE DERIVED ALL
OUR PHILOSOPHY AND ALL OUR
LITERATURE FROM THE KIND OF
SET-UP WHICH WE GOT FROM
GREEK AND HEBREW ORIGINS.
AND THE BIBLE IS
THE CENTRE OF THAT.

The Host says AND YOU'VE CALLED THIS
WORK YOUR LAST PHASE.
AND I'M WONDERING WHY?

Dr. Frye continues WELL, I SUPPOSE
BECAUSE
I PASSED MY 65th BIRTHDAY.
AND IT'S NOT... I DON'T MEAN
ANYTHING MORE FUNEREAL BY
THAT, BUT MERELY IT'S LIKELY
TO BE THE LAST CREATIVE PHASE
I'LL BE DEALING WITH.
I DON'T MEAN IT'S MY
LAST BOOK, BY ANY MEANS.

The Host says YOU'VE SAID, NOT HERE TONIGHT,
BUT IN OTHER PLACES, THAT ONE
THING THAT CANADA DOES OFFER
US IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO BE A
KIND OF OBSERVER OF
THE WORLD SITUATION.
AND YOU, YOURSELF, HAVE BEEN
OBSERVING PATTERNS AND LOOKING
FOR STRUCTURES.
AND I'M WONDERING, IF IN THIS
STAGE IN YOUR LIFE, YOU SEE
THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR
OWN PROFESSIONAL LIFE?
A STRUCTURE.

Dr. Frye says YES, I SUPPOSE
ONE DOES.
I WOULD BE RATHER HARD
PUT TO CHARACTERIZE IT.
I THINK STAYING IN CANADA
DURING MY WHOLE PROFESSIONAL
LIFE HAS BEEN IMPORTANT
TO ME BECAUSE IT IS
A WATCHER'S COUNTRY.
IT'S ON THE SIDELINES OF WHERE
THE GREAT DECISIONS ARE MADE.
AND THE OBSERVER SEES MORE
THAN THE PLAYER VERY FREQUENTLY.

The Host says BUT COULD YOU ARTICULATE
THE STRUCTURE OF YOUR
OWN LIFE'S WORK?

Dr. Frye continues WELL,
I THINK I'VE BEEN
CIRCLING AROUND THE SAME
POINTS PRETTY
WELL ALL MY LIFE.
THE KIND OF VIEW OF LITERATURE
THAT I PUT IN
"THE ANATOMY OF
CRITICISM"
WAS ALREADY THERE
IN MY EARLIER BOOK ON BLAKE
AND HAS BEEN REPEATED SINCE.
IT DOESN'T MEAN I'M SAYING
THE SAME THING EVERY TIME,
BUT THAT I AM GOING BACK
ON WHAT HAS BEEN CALLED
A SPIRAL CURRICULUM.
TRYING TO GET NEW IDEAS, NEW
WAYS OF LOOKING AT THINGS, AND
YET FINDING SOMEHOW OR OTHER
THEY DO HOOK THEMSELVES ON
TO WHAT I'VE DONE BEFORE.

The Host says I WANT, IN OUR REMAINING
MOMENTS TOGETHER, TO TALK A
LITTLE BIT ABOUT CANADA AND
THE PRESENT CANADIAN SCENE.
YOU WROTE
"IN THE BUSH
GARDEN,"
AMONG MANY OTHER
THINGS, ABOUT THE CANADIAN
IMAGINATION, THAT PART OF OUR
PROBLEM IS IN FAILING TO
REALIZE THAT CANADIAN UNITY
AND CANADIAN IDENTITY ARE
TWO DIFFERENT THINGS.
AND WHEN WE FORGET
THAT, WE'RE IN TROUBLE.
COULD YOU SAY SOMETHING
BRIEFLY ABOUT THAT?
CANADIAN UNITY,
CANADIAN IDENTITY.

Dr. Frye says WELL,
I SAID THAT POLITICAL
AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS
IN OUR WORLD TEND TO
CENTRALIZE AND BUILD UP
BIGGER AND BIGGER UNITS.
AND OUR UNITY, AS CANADA,
IS A POLITICAL UNITY.
AND THAT FITS INTO A STILL
LARGER UNITY IN WHICH THE
UNITED STATES IS THE
DOMINATING FACTOR.
AND I DON'T THINK THE
CANADIANS HAVE MUCH DESIRE TO
RESIST THE FACT THAT THEY
GO ALONG WITH THE AMERICANS
ECONOMICALLY AND, TO A
CONSIDERABLE EXTENT,
POLITICALLY TOO.
THAT SEEMS TO BE JUST PART
OF THE TIME WE'RE LIVING IN.
BUT IN HIS IMAGINATION,
IN HIS CREATIVE POWER,
MAN IS SOMETHING
OF A VEGETABLE.
HE NEEDS TO STRIKE ROOTS
AND DEAL WITH A FAIRLY
LIMITED COMMUNITY.
AND IF YOU LOOK AT AMERICAN
WRITERS, YOU FIND THAT THEY
TURN OUT TO BE MISSISSIPPI
WRITERS AND NEW ENGLAND WRITERS
AND PARIS EX-PATRIOT
WRITERS, AND SO ON.
SIMILARLY, WITH CANADA, YOU'LL
FIND THAT MORE AND MORE SMALL
COMMUNITIES IN CANADA ARE
BECOMING ARTICULATE THROUGH
THEIR WRITERS AND
THEIR PAINTERS.

The Host says SO WHEN WE SEARCH
FOR OUR OWN
IDENTITY, IT'S GOING TO BE
A REGIONAL IDENTITY.

Dr. Frye says IT'S GOING TO BE A
PLURALISTIC IDENTITY
AND A REGIONAL ONE, YES.

The Host continues ON THE QUESTION OF
SEPARATION,
AND WE'RE TALKING ABOUT THE
SEPARATION OF QUEBEC, YOU'VE
SAID SEPARATION IS A BETRAYAL
OF THE INTELLECTUAL, AND THAT
QUEBEC INTELLECTUALS HAVE
BEEN SOCIALLY AND
POLITICALLY IRRESPONSIBLE.

Dr. Frye says OH, WELL, IF I...
DID I SAY
THAT
IN SO MANY WORDS?
I DON'T THINK I WOULD
SAY THAT THEY HAVE BEEN
POLITICALLY IRRESPONSIBLE.
I DO FEEL THAT SEPARATISM IN
QUÉBEC IS VERY LARGELY AN
INTELLECTUAL'S MOVEMENT.
AND, CONSEQUENTLY, AS ONE THAT
DOESN'T HAVE TO CONSIDER THE
ACTUAL POLITICAL ECONOMIC
CONSEQUENCES AS PRIMARY.
AND I THINK, MY OWN VIEW IS
THAT CULTURALLY, I THINK WE'RE
ALL INSTINCTIVELY SEPARATISTS.

The Host says THAT COMES BACK TO
THE REGIONAL IDENTITY.

Dr. Frye continues YES, IT DOES.
AND THAT POLITICALLY AND
ECONOMICALLY IT'S A GREAT
MISTAKE TO HITCH THAT ON TO
A SEPARATING, DECENTRALIZING
CULTURAL MOVEMENT.
I THINK WHEN YOU DO THAT, YOU
ARE LIKELY TO GET SOMETHING
RATHER INGROWN AND
INTROVERTED AND PROVINCIAL.

The Host says AND DO YOU THINK THEY'RE
LIABLE TO DO IT?

Dr. Frye says I DON'T THINK THAT
IN A WORLD LIKE OURS,
QUEBEC HAS ALL
THAT MUCH LIBERTY.
I THINK IT CAN ONLY CHOOSE
BETWEEN BEING A PROVINCE OF
CANADA AND BEING AN OUTCROPPING
OF THE UNITED STATES.
THAT IS ECONOMICALLY.

The Host says Dr. FRYE, WE DIDN'T GET A
CHANCE TO TALK ABOUT YOUR
OWN LIFE OTHER THAN YOUR
PROFESSIONAL LIFE.
BORN IN SHERBROOKE, QUÉBEC,
AND WENT TO MONCTON,
NEW BRUNSWICK FOR YOUR GRADE
SCHOOL AND HIGH SCHOOL.
CAME TO TORONTO FOR
A TYPING COURSE.
CAME SECOND AND STAYED AND
WENT TO VICTORIA COLLEGE.
1936, YOU WERE ORDAINED IN THE
UNITED CHURCH AS A MINISTER.
THEN TO OXFORD FOR YOUR MA IN
ENGLISH, THEN BACK TO VIC
AND THE U OF T.
IN PARTING, RELIGION
AND THE STUDENT TODAY.
WOULD YOU SAY
SOMETHING ABOUT THAT?

Dr. Frye says I SAID IN ONE OF
MY ESSAYS ON
THE DISTURBANCES IN THE LATE
'60s, THAT I THOUGHT STUDENTS
AT THAT TIME WERE INTENSELY
AND EVEN DESPERATELY
RELIGIOUS, BUT WEREN'T QUITE
CERTAIN WHAT THEY
WERE LOOKING FOR.
THEY HAD RATHER STRONGER
VIEWS ABOUT WHAT THEY WERE
REPUDIATING THAN WHAT
THEY WERE ACCEPTING.

The Host says AND TODAY?

Dr. Frye continues AND I THINK
TODAY THE
SITUATION IS STILL ROUGHLY
THE SAME, EXCEPT THAT THERE
IS LESS OF THE SENSE
OF PANIC PERHAPS.
BUT I THINK THERE IS A VERY
STRONG DESIRE TO GET AT WHAT IS
REGARDED AS THE CORE OF
RELIGION, THE ESSENTIAL THING.
A KIND OF CONSCIOUSNESS THAT
HAS BROKEN OUT OF ALL THE
CATEGORIES THAT OUR WORLD OF
TIME AND SPACE PUTS ON IT.
AND THE INSTITUTIONAL
MANIFESTING OF THE RELIGION IS
MUCH LESS IMPORTANT TO
THE CONTEMPORARY STUDENT.

The Host concludes I SEE.
I WISH WE HAD MORE TIME.
I KNOW YOU HAVE TAKEN YOUR
TIME, WHICH IS VERY PRECIOUS,
FROM THE GREAT LABOUR YOU
ARE UNDER TO BE HERE WITH US
TONIGHT, AND I AM
VERY GRATEFUL TO YOU.
THE AUDIENCE MIGHT BE HAPPY TO
KNOW THAT Dr. NORTHROP FRYE,
IN HIGH SCHOOL, WAS BORED.
THANK YOU, Dr. FRYE.

Watch: Interview: Northrop Frye